Thursday, August 18: We leave Goðafoss around 10:45 a.m. and we’re on our way to our next stop, Mývatn. We pass another pretty but nondescript lake along the way, and within a half hour, we’re at shallow Mývatn, a lake that sits in an area of active volcanism in the north of Iceland, not far from Krafla volcano.
Route 1 takes us to the southwest corner of Mývatn, where the icy swift-running Laxá (Salmon River) flows away from the lake. The scenery here is magnificent.
In the distance, we can see the iconic Vindbelgjarfjall, a 529-meter mountain on Lake Mývatn’s western shore. Its formation dates back to the Ice Age and is part of Krafla volcanic system. Supposedly this mountain offers fantastic views across the lake, but we have many other walks planned today and opt not to do this one.
The skies are so blue and the air so clear that I’m in heaven. I love nothing better than this kind of weather, with breezy temperatures in the high 50s and no humidity.
The Laxá is known for its brown trout and Atlantic salmon fishing.
We spend quite a bit of time walking on the shores of the turbulent Laxá.
We stop near Vindbelgjarfjall, where we’re attacked by the midges, or swarms of small flies. Mývatn’s name translates as “lake of midges;” we have our only experience of them at our brief stop, thank goodness.
We continue up the western side of Mývatn to the small town of Reykjahlíð on the lake’s northeast corner. With its 300 inhabitants and a smattering of guesthouses and hotels, the town serves as the base for the area but doesn’t have much to see other than Reykjahlíðarkirkja, the Reykjahlíð Church.
At the end of a 2-year period of Krafla volcanic eruptions from 1727-1729, the Leirhnjúkur crater sent lava flowing toward the lakeshore, destroying farms and buildings in its path but miraculously parting before the church and sparing it from destruction. Rebuilt on its original foundation in 1876, the church was built again in 1962.
Mývatn Lake was created by a large basaltic lava eruption 2300 years ago, and the surrounding landscape is dominated by volcanic landforms, including lava pillars and pseudocraters. We take a hike in the giant Dimmuborgir (“Dark Castles”) lava field, on the eastern side of the lake. We follow the Church Circle path, which is 2.3km but seems longer!
Dimmuborgir was created about 2300 years ago during an extensive volcanic eruption. Tremendous rivers of lava flowed from a 12km-long fissure south of Hverfjall (Hverfell) and running through Laxárdalur and Aðaldalur valleys all the way down to the sea.
Geologists believe that during this eruption something blocked the flow of lava causing a lake of lava to form. As the lava in the lake had started to solidify, the blockage gave way and the molten lava flowed out leaving behind the parts which had solidified. These conditions created fantastical geological formations. (Edge of the Arctic: Dimmuborgir).
We walk the Church Circle path through Dimmuborgir, marveling at all the unusual lava formations, caves, and arches.
Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.
I get quite warm and feel like we might be lost because the walk seems to be taking longer than it should.
I love the heather and colorful flora found throughout the lava field.
At several points, Mike argues that we seem to be circling around to the same place we were before, but I feel certain each new lay of the land is different from the ones we’ve passed through already. I tell him we need to keep proceeding on. It turns out I’m right. 🙂
Finally we reach a vantage point where we can see the lake and the parking lot, so we know we’re going in the right direction.
After we finish our walk at around 1:30, we hop in the car to head to Leirhnjúkur, part of the Krafla caldera. Its last eruption was from 1975 to 1984.